the post i won’t share

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{image is a photo of a boy hiding his face. Source}

I’ve been hesitant to say what I’m about to say. I’ve waited a really, really long time. I never want to make anyone with good intentions feel badly about what they’re doing in an attempt to help someone, particularly someone who clearly needs their help, and especially a parent who is trying desperately to help his or her kid through a rough time.

But as I said recently, if it were me (and it has been me), if I were the one whose well-intended actions were actually hurting the person or people I thought I was helping (see: supporting Autism Speaks for too many years or using person-first language because I ‘thought’ it was respectful .. or, or, or …), well, by God, I’d want to know.

So here it is.

Yesterday, I read an all-too familiar plea on Facebook. The details tend to vary slightly, but the story is, sadly, the same.

Note: Names and all identifying details have been changed. 

Please help.

My eleven year-old son Tommy is a great kid with a beautiful soul. He is my world.

Tommy is being mercilessly bullied at school. Ever day since he started sixth grade, he has routinely been called, “faggot, retard, pussy, mama’s boy,” and “village idiot.”

His tormentors follow him to the bathroom and jeer at him at his locker. They tease him so badly in the locker room that he has taken to going to the nurse’s office before PE every day.

It’s been absolutely horrible for him and not being able to help my baby has been torture for me. Tommy comes home crying day after day and I go to bed crying night after night.

We’ve gone to his teachers and the principal numerous times and no one has done anything to help.

My son is being humiliated and the adults who should be protecting him are turning a blind eye. Please, please share this status. Help me use the power of social media to shame these bullies AND the staff at Lincoln Middle School in Townville, Nebraska into protecting my son.

Tommy is eleven.

Tommy is living through hell. A hell that not only should he not have to face, but a hell that I would bet a year’s salary he wouldn’t want to share with everyone everywhere on Facebook.

Tommy is eleven.

How do you think Tommy will feel when he realizes (and at some point, I promise you, he will) that everyone in Townville, not to mention me and all my friends in Boston, Chicago, New York, and Timbuktu, know that he’s followed to the bathroom in school? How will he feel when he finds out that his Little League coach knows that he’s called a pussy every day? How will he feel when someone lets slip that they know that he cries himself to sleep every night?

Tommy is eleven.

Being eleven is hard. Being eleven and being bullied is awful. Being eleven and having the entire world know exactly HOW you are bullied, where, and by whom is unimaginable.

“My son is being humiliated,” she said, “and the adults who should be protecting him are turning a blind eye. Please, please share this status. Help me use the power of social media to shame these bullies AND the Lincoln Middle School staff into protecting my son.”

I hate to say this, but “Tommy” is being humiliated twice. Once by the perpetrators of this daily horror, and again, completely inadvertently, by his mom, who is asking us to share his humiliation with as many people as we possibly can.

She is one of the adults to whom she refers – one who should be protecting him. He should know that his secrets are safe with her. That when he comes to her for help, she will fight like hell for him, and that she will do everything she can to guard his dignity and privacy when she does.

I understand this mom’s motivation. I empathize with her so deeply that it physically hurts to read her words. My heart breaks for Tommy. I hope to God he gets the help he needs and deserves.

But I won’t share the post.

This is why.

For the record, Neurodivergent K wrote about this long before I did. I was afraid to say it. She wasn’t. And for that I’m grateful. 

Editor’s note: I posted the following on Facebook and thought it appropriate to add here as well. Apologies that it’s longer than the post itself. 

There have been a couple of recurring themes in the comments responding to my post this morning that I’d like to address.

Firstly, as I said in the post, any and all identifying details have been changed. Radically. There is absolutely nothing in the post that would identify nor be recognizable to any specific child nor parent.

Secondly, as I also made clear in the post, I’m not judging the (hypothetical) mom’s intentions. I said explicitly that I understand her motivation and deeply empathize with her desperation.

What I am doing is pointing out what I believe to be a major downside to the way that she (remembering that “she” is a hypothetical person here as the details of the post, including the names, epithets, location, type of harassment, age of the child, etc, etc have all been changed so as to in no way relate it to actual people) is handling it.

This is not in any way, shape, nor form an indictment of a mom, hypothetical or underlying, nor anyone else. It’s a discussion of what I believe are the unintended consequences of a particular method of addressing bullying. I think we do ourselves (and more importantly, our kids) a grave disservice when we shut down a conversation about how to best protect them because we’re too concerned about being perceived as judging each other’s hearts, which, well, please see: “I understand this mom’s motivation. I empathize with her so deeply that it physically hurts to read her words.”

Finally, in answer to the question about what this hypothetical mother could do to help her son, my advice would be to follow the chain of command until she finds someone who will listen and help. Teacher —> school counselor or psychologist or social worker —> principal —> superintendent of schools —> school board —> mayor —> state dept of education —> police —> local politicians —> governor –> (federal) DOE. I’ve done it. (I made it as far as the school board before we had a meeting with all the people that needed to be there and we were able to make the changes necessary to keep our kids safe. You didn’t read about it because I didn’t write about it.)

While some local cultures have miles to go, anti-bullying laws are in place to protect our kids. I believe that the best method we have is to keep going until we find the help we need to enforce them. (And to ensure as we do that our kids are getting the care they need be it from a counselor, therapist, or another professional who can guide them and help give them the tools they need.)

My dear friend, Morénike just left a long and thoughtful comment on the blog post which I hope you’ll take the time to read. She ended it with this:

“The intent of Jess’s post is not to bash the mother, but to lovingly and respectfully point out the potential dangers in such tactics. Rather than take offense, we should applaud an approach that seeks to err on the side of caution with regard to intimate, identifying details about a minor child being publicly revealed by a parent. No one is saying that the mother should not take action to defend her son – she should. But not this action.”

Thank you for reading, Thank you for sharing your thoughts and perspectives, and in so doing, thank you for helping to make us all better – better parents to our kids, better advocates for those who need our voices, and better people.

39 thoughts on “the post i won’t share

  1. It’s sad that the society is not friendly to being different! I won’t blame this mother, she’s frustrated and was thinking putting it out there to the media might stop it. It has for a lot of kids! The treatment of ASD people at Judge’s school and many more schools around the country have been stopped with it’s brought to media notice. I really feel for this mother!

    • As I said in the post, I feel absolutely awful for this mother as well and even worse for her son. My heart breaks for them both. And yes, social media is an incredible tool for social change. but you’ll notice in any article about the Judge Rotenberg center, the only kids who are featured either by face or by name have made the choice to share their stories. That to me is very different.

  2. I feel for her, too. It is confusing to want more than seeing your child in pain and feeling powerless to help. I have been there, too.
    The post you linked to assumes nefarious intentions (and stupidity) on the part of parents. I don’t agree at all. It’s a horrible situation to be in. Many people are doing their best and we need to remember that, and empathize, to the best of our ability.

  3. As someone who was teased like this when I was about his age, all the people I really cared about already knew I was being picked on. When you are teased like that in school, all the people you come in contact with already know. If there were people in Boston, Chicago, New York, and Timbuktu who knew, and cared, and tried to help do something, I don’t think that would have been humiliating to me. I think that would have made me feel cared for. My parents didn’t have that option. There was no Internet when I was 11. My parents had to keep meeting with teachers and principals.

    What is Tommy’s mother supposed to do?

    • Jim, I’m so, so sorry that you experienced this. It’s heartbreaking. That said, I really appreciate you sharing your perspective.

      In answer to the question about what this hypothetical mother could do, my advice would be to follow the chain of command until she finds someone who will listen and help. Teacher — school counselor or psychologist or social worker — principal — superintendent of schools — school board — mayor — state dept of education — police — local politicians — governor. You simply keep going until you find help. And while there was no Internet when we were kids, there were no anti bullying laws either. They are now in place and on her side. That makes a big difference in fighting for help. It still sucks, but there are ways to get help without sharing all the details.

      • Jess, your point is well made, and that is the path I would follow. Nevertheless, not everyone has the ability to follow that chain. I’m sure your experience doing this was not easy. For some people, pushing this many people is beyond their capability. As Kelly mentioned above, by reaching out through social media, this mother was asking for help from a broader community.

        Ultimately, different people have different perspectives on privacy, and make different decisions for their children. I probably wouldn’t be as comfortable sharing the details about my children that you share about your’s. Likewise, I know there are people who saw my FB post sharing my daughter’s autism diagnosis as TMI. I know you carefully consider your children’s privacy and you have very firm standards to protect them. Perhaps this mother has made the same calculation and just arrived at a different conclusion.

        Finally, thank you for your kind words about the serious teasing I received (still can’t quite use the term bullying as I associate that with stolen lunch money and residing in garbage cans). Those were tough times, but I don’t regret them. I think I am a much more compassionate person because I experienced those times. For that, I am grateful.

        One very last thing… Thank you for your post this morning, and for continuing to be willing to share your thoughts. Thanks to you, I am able to look at my daughter’s autism in a very different light. The world is a much better place because you are in it. Even if, once in a great while, I sometimes disagree with you.

    • I was going to say much the same thing. I was bullied horrifically all throughout school, and it was no secret. EVERYONE knew. NO ONE cared. Messages that what people were doing and saying to me was not ok were astonishingly rare. Actual support was nonexistent. I actually wound up believing that the way I was treated was only right and just and that I must deserve it. I believed that for years and years and years.

      I can only imagine what having large numbers of people supporting me and decrying the bullies (and by “the bullies” I mean “pretty much everyone else in school”) would have done for me.

      So basically, I really need more convincing that this is actually harmful for the children involved. Also, do we know for sure that they did not consent to these posts themselves?

      • Hi Andraya! One of the most satisfying things for me is to grow up and see all the other kids who were mercilessly teased now grown up, running major organizations and changing the world. I think you and I are in good company.

  4. We have had a similar struggle (not exactly the same, but details don’t matter). Much of my life/work involves being on social media, and I’m connected to many local people online – not to the extent you are, but still. My husband and I made a decision that my son’s story and his struggles are his alone, and we won’t be sharing details. We also both posted a status on facebook saying just that.

  5. Soo… You won’t share this post but you’ll make a blog post about it and are it with just as many people—- and I found this thru another site who re posted it. Yeah- what was that about good intentions going badly?

    • Please see: ALL IDENTIFYING INFORMATION HAS BEEN CHANGED. Radically. There is absolutely nothing in the post that would identify a specific child nor parent.

  6. I hear your pain and I very much appreciate you sharing your perspective.

    I’d ask you to read the post again. As I said outright in the post, I’m not judging her intentions. I made it very clear that I deeply empathize with her desperation.

    What I am doing is pointing out what I believe to be a major downside to the way that she (remembering that “she” is a hypothetical person here as the details of this post, including the names, epithets, location, type of harassment, age of the child, etc, etc have all been radically changed so as to in no way relate it to actual people) is handling it.

    This is not in any way, shape, nor form an indictment of the mom, hypothetical or underlying, nor of you nor anyone else. It’s a discussion of the unintended consequences of this method. I think we do ourselves (and more importantly, our kids) a disservice when we shut down the conversation about how best to protect our kids.

    • Please, please read Morenike’s comment above. And note mine below in which I made clear (as I did in the post) that I have changed the details so radically as to leave nothing that would identify a particular mom or child. That was done very purposefully so as to eliminate the possibility of shaming anyone. And yes, I am looking critically at the actions taken. Call that judgement if you will. I believe that if we are to call ourselves advocates for children, it is our duty to do just that. That is not, however, in any way, shape nor form judging her heart.

  7. With all due respect, I believe some of the commenters are missing the larger issue. I doubt that anyone doubts that this mother loves her child dearly. Obviously she would NEVER intentionally hurt, shame, or humiliate her own child. As the post clearly states, she has tried several avenues, and feels that she has no other choice than to take this drastic measure of publicly revealing the details in hopes that something will change. No one fault her for her good intentions.

    But however good her intentions are, it doesn’t negate the fact that her actions are going to hurt her son. Revealing the child’s name, school, age, and other identifying information in hopes of shaming the bullies and the administration might actually result in successfully shaming the bullies and the administration as she hoped, but it will shame her child too. I understand that she is desperate, but one cannot adopt an “anything goes” approach because one feels helpless and out of options – not when a child is at stake. Children are people. They have a right to privacy. They have a right to dignity. They have a right to a sense of autonomy.

    These bullies have hurt her son, and by their inaction the administrators have hurt her son. But by violating his privacy in so egregious a manner, this mother has unintentionally caused a huge amount of pain too. And this pain could feel worse, because it’s coming from someone whom he loves and trusts.

    The “ends” do NOT justify the means. It’s important that we, as imperfect people and imperfect parents, try to step back and consider the long-term effect of actions and not just react in the moment. The intent of Jess’s post is not to bash the mother, but to lovingly and respectfully point out the potential dangers in such tactics. Rather than take offense, we should applaud an approach that seeks to err on the side of caution with regard to intimate, identifying details about a minor child being publicly revealed by a parent. No one is sayinh that the mother should not take action to defend her son – she should. But NOT this action.

    • I guess what I don’t understand is, how is this shaming the child? It is not his fault that he is being harassed. There is no reason for him to feel shamed. The ones who should feel shamed by this are the other kids who are bullying him, and especially the adults who are supposed to be protecting him.

  8. Jess, I just saw your post on fb. You and I are going to have to agree to disagree on this one. I’m glad you have friends who support you. Everyone deserves support. What’s lost here is this little boy and a culture that makes this hidden and happening everywhere, every day. You have a voice and a platform to change this but today you are using this to be the facebook police instead. Again, I don’t wish this on anyone. You can change all the identifying facts here down to the last detail but if that parent is a reader of yours, she sees this, she knows who she is, feels shame, sadness and frustration. And, her son is still in a bad place. As for the chain of command you cited, that’s a great start. There needs to be more focus on this and more accountability. It’s a start. It doesn’t often do enough, sadly. Because, in the end, there is zero accountability in this world for our kids. See Luau’s post from the last few days about that situation in Nyack NY. I think he’s spot on. Oh, and btw, it’s ok for that teacher to tape the Administrator, and ok for Luau to put it out, publicly, on social media. Bravo to them!! If this was Brooke or Katie, you would feel differently.
    I’m signing off to dig out my wood pile from 6 feet of snow. If you want to discuss this further, I’m happy to. You have my email address. Have a great day!

    • if it were brooke i would have been incredibly grateful to that brave teacher for taping the incident so that i could know what was happening. sadly, he lost his job because of it. as for luau sharing it, i skimmed his post yesterday but didn’t see that he shared the actual video. if that’s the case, and the video identifies the student, i heartily agree that it shouldn’t be shared and i will bring this to him and ask that he consider it. as for the snow, good luck, sister. i’m ready to hibernate.

      • I need to get off facebook and stop procrastinating. I have so much to say here but I need to stop because we apparently live in 2 very different worlds. 1.) Luau did the exact right thing. I applaud him and his courage. It’s not lost on me that he’s a Dad and Dad’s get away with more things than Mom’s. He didn’t post the video but he did post enough info and identifying factors,adult’s names etc. that it’s easily found. Again, Bravo to Luau!!!! That situation is horrendous. But, do you really think that outing that situation is any less humiliating to the parents and students involved? It’s really a very similar situation. Why is outing that ok but helping an 11 yr old boy is not. 2.) going to the Superintendent didn’t work in my case. We met many times. emails the school committee went ignored. Going to DESE helped but only temporarily.

        Honestly, until you are in this situation, and I hope and pray you never are, you have no clue the lengths you will go to to change this. Like discussing this with a blogger. Who knew?

        Now, where the F is that shovel?! Brrr.

    • So I think that there is a way to meet in the middle and hopefully have a positive outcome for both child and parent. I want to point out that neither my post nor the article I riffed off of ever identify kids or families. Instead they go after the offender directly, as in, “this is what the offender did, this is what the offender said.” The news clip in the article did air audio recordings, but they made sure to edit it so that there was no chance of identifying any of the kids involved. Though it gives the clip a choppy feel, I don’t think that it diminishes the absolute horror of what that principal did. I’m not sure that I would feel differently if it were Brooke or Katie…my feelings would definitely be exponentially larger, but not different. Of course, I might be in jail without access to Social Media, but that would be another story.

      I think that perhaps we are missing the forest for the trees though. It’s the bullies we should be going after, who we should be putting in the spotlight, who we should call out publicly. Placing the spotlight on the victims of bullying or humiliation is, to a degree, making them live through that horror all over again.

      • Luau, you are a true hero! (as is my own beloved husband who ran for and was elected to the School Committee in my town to change this.) My husband would be beside you in jail if that were our kids. I agree, focus on the bully. As a mom, the emotions are enormous. I believe this mom tried to tug at the heart strings. Everyone is different. I would never have done it that way but I understand why she did. As for making them relive it….even without facebook, my son still relives it because his processing skills work that way. It changes who they are as a person. Someone needs to help this child!

  9. While I enjoy your blog and photographs, I wouldn’t be comfortable sharing the type of personal details and photographs you share with the world. I feel that it would be invasive and disrespectful to my children and husband even if they gave their permission. But that’s me – I feel confident that you know what’s best for your children.

    • I once shared a lot more than I do now, including the girls’ real names. I remain very grateful to those who spoke up (in various ways, but for me, it was mostly through blogging and comments here, some actually somewhat cruelly and hurtfully delivered, though the delivery didn’t change the importance of the message) about the dangers of my openness and in so doing, opened my eyes to issues i’d never considered. that was a horribly constructed sentence. hoping you can make sense of it.

      • My point was that we’re all comfortable with varying degrees of sharing and have different values etc – to give you an idea of how private I am, I don’t even have a facebook page;)

  10. As much as I have gotten out of your blog posts in relation to autism (and it’s megaloads), I have also valued your writings for basic parenting and social media navigating. My children are a bit younger than yours and I appreciate the education before I have to face it. This speaks to dignity and respect for our children and all children. I do not post silly pictures of my boys with underwear on their head or anything else I don’t think they would want to see in public ten years from now.

  11. This is tough. As a person who worked as an advocate I can say that following those lines of communication does not always work. It has for me, and it has for you. Honestly having as many followers as you do, the school will do what they are supposed to. This isn’t the experience for all. I also appreciate the note about the person wrote that he would have felt supported, not humiliated if that was done for him. It is another way to look at it and it has value. I agree with Luau that we should focus more on the bullier not the bullied. But something still feels wrong to me about this post. No matter how you explain it and what your reasons there is a bit of this that still feels like your way is right and everyone else is wrong. But you are entitled to your opinion too.

  12. Jess, I get what you are trying to say about the need for all of us as parents to respect our children’s privacy, and I do agree with you generally. But I have to say something about this post makes me uneasy. It took me a while to put my finger on it, but I think it’s this notion that “Tommy” will be humiliated again by others hearing about what happened to him. It makes me uneasy because it underscores the fact that victims of abuse – whether bullying, physical, emotional or sexual – do indeed suffer twice. They suffer from the actual abuse, and too often they also suffer from a sense of shame, as if they were somehow responsible for the horrific actions of others. Instead of saying “don’t talk about this publicly”, shouldn’t we be reinforcing the notion that the only people who should feel ashamed are those who commit these acts, and those who turn a blind eye to them? I know you are trying to make a distinction between those who choose to tell their own stories vs. having others put them in the public domain, but I worry that some will read this and feel that their stories should not be heard because they are “shameful”. I wasn’t going to post this, but in the end I just want to say to all those who have suffered at the hands of others IT IS NOT YOUR FAULT. YOU HAVE NOTHING TO BE ASHAMED OF. And I figured you’d be cool with that :). Hugs.

    • Your point here is very well taken. I think that it would have been much better put had I said that she was sharing “something so painful.” There should be no shame, explicit nor implied. And you are right to emphasize, as we all should again and again, that the victims in these situations are never, ever to blame for the bullies’ actions. Thank you.

  13. As an aside, your mom is the perfect commentator:). Which parlays into my comment.

    So you are like 10 years, one large step behind me in this parenting gig. I see your personal evolution. I read your blog when you used the girls names (which are lovely) and read it now even though you are not.

    I’m fairly confident that in 10 years you will have a different take on the hypothetical mother’s post. When life and the goodness of people have lost a little of their shine. You will see the world through a different lens. Certainly as we age we collect more positive memories and experiences but the flip side is also true. We collect more bad stories and from them we learn the most.

    The mom who wrote that post likely exhausted, exploited all her resources and had to resort to shaming people in order to protect her child. Shame does work. Not long term but for the short term shaming can work. And that woman is trying to get her son to the next day. I applaud her and eventually I think you will, too.

    Be blessed today.

  14. I keep reading how it’s still bashing the mom… but by removing all details, it isn’t any longer about people but about actions, protocol, situations, ideas. The people in the story aren’t real, and neither are the words, the names, etc. It’s like a vignette in a course manual. In fact, Jess… I guess there’s no going back, and I also guess that it may be a situation of sticking with it despite backlash because you know you aren’t wrong… but maybe presenting it as vignette, a made-up situation that reflects the spirit of a compilation of things you’ve read/heard… I mean, it isn’t the first time this kind of thing has happened, and the dilemma is the same. Maybe presenting it as something not reflective of ONE situation but a made-up, could-be-because-this-stuff-happens would keep people from getting stuck on an issue that isn’t really there. Frustrating that instead of problem solving and discussing the actual issue, people are more stuck on making this non-existent mom feel supported. Funny, though. You’re a REAL mom who puts herself out there daily to hundreds of thousands of people, yet you are given very little room to fall outside others’ ideas of what you SHOULD be saying and supporting. They tear you down in order to argue that a pretend mom should be supported.

  15. I posted a short time ago about my son being bullied at school and my first reaction to your post here was a need to go back and check it, to see if I had given more detail or said something that would cause my son grief or pain. I still feel like what I said was reasonable – even after a second look. But I related to what you said as someone who was also bullied for a time in middle school. It was not horrific and at the age of 40 something I could care less who knows about it today. But in high school? Even when I first went away to college? Oh yes I would not have liked having people able to google my name and come up with the unpleasant details about the boy who put dog crap all over my locker, etc. At the same time I know how totally crazed I felt over what was going on for my son and that was with a supportive school environment.

    I stand hopelessly torn on this one. I try to cast myself into that hypothetical spot where my son is suffering and no one I am supposed to be able to count on is willing to help – in fact some are even participating. I can’t say I would not have made the choice to sacrifice some of my child’s future privacy to try and get him help right now.

    In a way I worry about this and make this trade off every day in a different way. As a condition FASD still carries enormous shame and stigma with it. By being very open about what my son’s diagnosis is I allow all that into his life. Some day he might prefer that people NOT know he is adopted, that his first mom died due to her alcoholism, that his disability is one that could have been prevented, that most people believe FASd means he will automatically be a criminal and an addict himself. I hope all the work I am doing now – along with countless other moms and people affected will change the stigma and shame that connect to his disability. But I don’t know that it will be any different. I don’t know that he will not be very unhappy about what I do share, with the school, with the world.

    I’m glad you wrote this post. I don’t know if I agree completely or not. But its worth spending time thinking about – every time I share any part of his story no matter what forum, no matter how many details given.

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